The Terminal Man
by Philip Turner
Chapter 13

AS HIS HEART SLOWED DOWN from a dizzy race, and he regained control of his breathing, Helm's mind began to work again. He was almost used to having guns pointed at him and he could analyze the reason why it was being done. In this case, Eva von Arlberg wanted him to do something. He wouldn't be able to do it if she shot him. Therefore, the gun was irrelevant. And she couldn't get away with firing it without a silencer in the early morning stillness of the hotel anyway.
   "What the hell time is it, anyway?" Helm asked casually with a yawn that wasn't entirely forced.
   The blue eyes flicked to the bedside clock, then stabbed back at him as if suspecting that Helm would take advantage of the distraction. "Five-thirty."
   "Leave it out, Evie! I'm not bloody getting up at half-five." Helm turned onto his side, putting his back to the intruder, and closed his eyes again.
   Something cold closed on his left wrist. Helm opened his eyes. Eva flicked the gun toward the brass frame of the bed.
   "I'm not much use at kinky sex at this time of the day, either."
   The gun flicked again toward the frame of the bed. Helm fastened the other part of the handcuff to a post and closed his eyes yet again. He heard slithering noises. The bed moved. The gaoler was getting in with her prisoner.
   "Move over," Eva told him with a yawn. "And in case you have other ideas, the key is in my bag, with my pistol, on the other side of the room."
   Helm digested the information for a moment. "What if I just go ahead and rape you anyway?" he said at last.
   "Don't be silly, darling," chuckled Eva. "You are too much of a gentleman. Now shut up and go to sleep."
   Helm became aware of regular breathing a few minutes later. Eva von Alrberg had gone to sleep, completely sure of her control of the situation. It had to be something to with the arrogance of aristocracy, Helm told himself. Her confidence also told him that she wasn't alone. She had to have at least one assistant lurking nearby. Helm was still trying to think of something to tell the night porter on the phone to ensure his release when he drifted off to sleep.
   He woke with a start an unknown time later and looked at his watch. He had actually managed to sleep for over an hour, handcuffed and with a strange woman in his bed. Eva von Arlberg was having breakfast – bacon and eggs with coffee, by the food smells.
   She unlocked the handcuff and ordered another breakfast from room service while Helm was in the bathroom with no access to his outer clothing. She was wearing jeans and a light pullover of the same dazzling white as Helm's expensive cashmere. It looked a more suitable outfit for sneaking around in the early hours than the previous evening's cocktail dress and pearls. Her honey-blonde hair was pulled back into a pony tail, making her look less aristocratically aloof. The pistol lived in her shoulder bag. She kept her distance to give herself time for a quick draw.
   "What sort of gun is that?" said Helm when the waiter had delivered his English breakfast.
   "Walther Taschenpistole," said Eva.
   "Doesn't Taschen mean pocket?"
   "What did Morgenstern want with you?"
   "He wanted to know if I'm a doctor."
   "So you told him you are an engineer?"
   "How did you know that?" frowned Helm.
   "It says so in your passport, darling. What happened?"
   "When I told him you were chasing your mother's jewels, he lost interest."
   Helm popped one of his Feospan Spansules out of the blister pack to take his daily dose of iron. Eva watched his suspiciously, then concluded that suicide pills don't usually come more than one to the pack. She poured herself more coffee then resumed her study of a German newspaper on the other side of the room.
   Helm began to wonder about Morgenstern's deposit of $10,000. He had put the notes in the pillow case for safe keeping. He couldn't figure out how to retrieve them under the eyes of his captor. Then the lady herself solved his problem. She locked the door to the corridor and took the key into the bathroom. Helm thrust the notes into a spare sock. He tucked three inches of the sock inside the waistband of his underpants as an improvised money belt.
   His next worry, on the way out, was whether the receptionist would ask him if he wanted the parcel in the safe. He was relieved to see a woman on duty. She smiled as he paid his bill in cash. Then she handed him the keys of his repaired BMW and wished him guten Morgen. Helm replied with an auf Wiedersehen, hoping that he would be back. Despite the constant cycle of kidnappings, he rather liked Liechtenstein.
   The chunky, dark-haired man from the previous evening joined them as they left the hotel, heading for the car park. He got in the back of Helm's silver-striped, blue BMW. Eva von Arlberg took the keys from Helm and pointed out two more cars belonging to her private army. The white BMW led and the green one followed when they set off.
   At the Austrian border, the officials saluted a count's daughter. They barely glanced at John Scott's passport. The convoy sped through mountains for thirty-seven kilometres, climbing steadily, apparently unaware of the 100 kph speed limit outside built-up areas.
   Helm remembered that he was supposed to call Clerment's Zürich phone number if he still had the parcel of replica jewellery at that point. Strictly speaking, the Hotel Maksimillian had the parcel, not him, which was just as well because he had forgotten two digits in the middle of the number.
   Having dealt with that problem, he sat back and enjoyed the views. His driver was nothing to say as she concentrated on driving as close as possible to barriers at vertical drops and sheer rock walls. He told himself that Eva wasn't really suffering from a death-wish and that trying to wrestle control from her was too dangerous to attempt. She was just playing a form of 'chicken' with him – a jet-setters' game.
   The castle impressed Helm immediately. It looked like the work of a relative of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria. Turret after turret grew from grey walls, each crowned with a conical, terracotta roof. There were battlements, vertical-slit windows for archers and horizontal-slit for crossbowmen, and a huge pit with a steel bridge just before the gatehouse.
   There was no drawbridge but the solid doors looked strong enough to resist a battering ram until an invading army got fed up of having boiling oil and boulders dropped onto its collective heads. There was even a raised portcullis inside the gatehouse tunnel. Cars parked in the courtyard and fluorescent lights behind large windows spoiled the mediaeval atmosphere.
   Helm was willing to bet that there was central heating and modern plumbing, not roaring log fires and a long drop down to an evil pit, which could also be used to dispose of the occasional inconvenient prisoner.
   Eva handed her pistol to her bodyguard, who had rushed out of the back of the car to open her door. Helm had to open his own door. He wasn't obviously under guard but there was nowhere to run with the main doors closed. The courtyard was about twenty yards square. The lowest of the surrounding walls soared a good twenty-five feet toward the clear, blue sky. Helm's heart was thudding rather. He put it down to tired blood trying to cope with the altitude rather than fear.
   "Do you have to check your weapons when you get here," he said as he headed for a doorway with Eva. "Like in a Wild West saloon?"
   "It removes temptation from you," Eva said coolly. "You can forget about grabbing me or shooting your way out."
   "My reputation precedes me," scoffed Helm.
   "Yes, Herr Scott. We heard how efficiently you dealt with the kidnappers of Sophia Makronotis."
   Helm had no answer to that. Eva took him down to the cellars in a lift. The stone corridor lacked personality. It was dry, brightly lit and it smelled faintly of paint. A dark, wooden door with an iron grill opened on well-greased hinges into a stone chamber. Before Helm could react, a large man snapped a handcuff onto his left wrist.
   There were two beefy retainers in the dungeon to discourage resistance. The chamber measured twenty by thirty feet. Its walls were smooth stone and they looked as if they had been carved out of the mountain. Helm found himself tethered to an iron ring set in the wall at head-height. Tsai Yuan-lin was hanging just out of reach, her toes an inch or so from the floor. The manacles were steel, not the rope favoured by Ianos Makronotis, and they had dug into the flesh of her hands.
   "Welcome to Schloß Arlberg, Herr Scott."
   Helm turned to see Eva von Arlberg standing beside a tall, grey-haired, beautifully dressed man – presumably, her father.
   "Hi, Max." Helm tried to insult the nobleman with familiarity. "I don't think much of your hospitality. Or do you decadent Austrians get a kick out of torturing women?"
   "Yes, Fräulein Yuan-lin does look rather uncomfortable," smiled Graf von Arlberg.
   He signed to the beefy retainers. They unlocked the manacles then carried Tsai over to a table. It wasn't until they had attached ropes to her wrists and ankles that Helm realized that it was a rack.
   "How tall are you, Herr Scott?" said the count.
   "Six foot one," said Helm.
   "And your little friend is about three-quarters of a foot shorter. You would make a very handsome couple if you were the same height."
   "Tell him bloody nothing, John," Tsai said defiantly.
   "Women are said to have a greater capacity for pain," smiled the count. "Also deception. When she delivered her package to the bank in Zürich, thirty seconds ahead of my men, she gave them a victory wave on her way out. What she failed to anticipate was the unprofessional attitude of others. My men were still inside the bank, wondering how to explain their failure, when her package was collected less than five minutes later. They should have been suspicious when the man just threw it casually onto the back seat of his car. But they followed him home and waited until night before they visited him.
   "They left without waking him. He had left the parcel conveniently on a table in the entrance hall. Hardly the place to leave family jewellery worth nine point five million dollars overnight. Shortly afterwards, they collected Fräulein Yuan-lin from her hotel and Eva set about finding you again. Have you an expert knowledge of jewellery, Herr Scott?"
   "Not so's you'd notice," said Helm.
   "You know, of course, that diamonds cut glass?" The count used one of his daughter's rings to draw a fancy A on a hand mirror. One of the retainers handed him a shoe box of jewellery. None of half a dozen stones selected at random would cut into the glass.
   "They are the same hardness," said the count.
   "So?" said Helm.
   "So I would like to examine your jewels?"
   "How do you know we weren't both decoys?"
   "Examining your jewels would tell me just that," said the count patiently.
   "Tell him bloody nothing, John," repeated Tsai.
   "How much is the young lady worth to you, Herr Scott?" The count accepted a battleaxe with a curved blade from one of his retainers.
   "You wouldn't dare," said Helm as the blade hovered over Tsai's throat.
   "I might," smiled the count. "But there is no need to go to such an extreme. Would you be prepared to sacrifice a small part of her? For what might be a box of mere replicas? Say, her thumb?"
   "Tell him bloody nothing, John," Tsai ordered.
   Graf von Arlberg raised the axe.
   "No!" Helm shouted as the axe swung down.
   The blade crashed into the frame of the rack. Helm felt cold suddenly. There was a lead weight inside his stomach. He felt weak with relief when the count stepped aside to reveal that he had missed Tsai's hand by a good six inches. "You have something to tell me, Herr Scott?" the count smiled.
   "It's in the safe at the Hotel Maksimillian in Vaduz. Waiting to be collected by Roger Lane."
   Eva von Arlberg nodded to her father and left the dungeon wearing an expression of cool triumph.
   "I could add loyalty to my list of the superior qualities of a woman," the count remarked. "Fräulein Yuan-lin is clearly prepared to suffer mutilation in the line of duty. Your loyalty to your employer is not so strong."
   "I don't work for Makronotis," said Helm. "I'm strictly free-lance. And no one's paying me to watch you chop Tsai to bits."
   "You too soft for this job, John," Tsai said regretfully.
   "I want you to remember that every time you count up to five on your left hand," said Helm. "You might be prepared to let these guys play games with you, and take a few thousand from Makronotis in compensation for what you consider an industrial injury. But I don't think someone else's jewellery is worth getting seriously damaged over. And don't expect me to apologize for doing you out of your heroic gesture."
   "Bravo, Herr Scott," said the count. "A man with a sense of values, no matter how mistaken, is to be applauded. I think we can move you to more comfortable quarters now."
   The beefy retainers released Tsai and Helm, and escorted the prisoners to the lift. The doors opened again when the light reached '3'. Tsai and Helm crossed a corridor to a tower room. The door closed behind them with a solid thud. A key turned in the lock and a bolt thumped into a socket.
   Helm found a sheer drop of at least 300 feet below both windows. A staircase around the wall descended from their room to a bedroom and a bathroom on the floor below. The door from the bedroom to the second-floor corridor was locked. There were two sets of luggage on the double bed. There could be no awkwardness about sharing with Tsai, Helm realized, in the light of Gladwin's revelation.
   "You think we're going to be here for a few days?" said Helm when they were back in the sitting room. A tray with coffee and biscuits had been delivered in their absence.
   Tsai replied with a shrug.
   "Are you not speaking to me? Because I let you down?"
   "Your decision, you live with it, John."
   "And don't think I can't live with it. A few bits and pieces of jewellery are replaceable. A thumb isn't. And it's not as if they weren't Max's jewels in the first place. Would you be happier if he'd cut your thumb off?"
   "'Course not!" scoffed Tsai. "You give in too easy. We have coffee now?"
   They sat together on the sofa. Helm filled two cups and presented a cup and saucer deliberately to Tsai's left hand. "Why should I let him play games with me if he's not paying for the privilege?"
   "Ah!" smiled Tsai, as if a great mystery had been revealed. "No pay, no play ball? I buy that, John."
   "How long were you hanging like that?"
   "Five minute."
   "I thought you'd been there for hours, the way those manacles were digging into you. I can still see the marks."
   "Not hurt now. So, what happen to you yesterday?"
   "Not much for a long time. Eva didn't catch up with me till dinnertime. By then, my parcel was in the hotel safe." Helm went on to describe how he had been kidnapped by Eva von Arlberg, rescued by the forces of Sigismund Morgenstern and recaptured by Eva.
   "This guy Morgenstern think Max got Adolf Hitler in clinic?" said Tsai incredulously when he ended his tale in the castle's cellars.
   Helm shrugged. "That's what he told me."
   "You believe him?"
   "Do I look bloody daft?"
   "This guy a bit mad?"
   "This guy a lot mad. But if he's in the Mad Millionaires' Club like Max and old Makronotis, he can get away with it. Like I said, he gave me ten thousand dollars, just like that. And I suppose there's the same to come."
   "What you do with it?"
   "Post it back to him from the airport, I guess. Okay, so I owe Max a kick in the teeth, but I'm not getting involved in major league arson. Do you want the job? And the twenty grand?"
   "Got other things to do, John."
   "How come you didn't fly straight home yesterday? After your delivery?"
   "Stand by to help decoy duck."
   "In case Eva's team got violent? Did you know you were the decoy duck?"
   Tsai shrugged. "Need to know. I didn't. You too."
   "You think I really had the sparklers? Someone would have collected them if I had the real ones. Wouldn't they?"
   Tsai shrugged again. "Max tell us soon."
   They spent the next two hours reading. Helm had his own paperback. Tsai selected a Maigret, in French, from a glass-fronted bookcase. Just as Helm was wondering if they would get some more coffee for elevenses, Graf von Arlberg, his daughter and two retainers strolled into the sitting room. One of the retainers was carrying a wooden box of shoebox size and a hand mirror. Both retainers kept a close watch on kung fu expert Tsai.
   "A brief demonstration," said the count. He scratched lines on the mirror with half a dozen diamonds in splendid settings. "If a thumb is worth nine point five million dollars, how much is the whole body worth?" he added.
   "Beats the hell out of the Six Million Dollar Man," said Helm. "Even taking inflation into account."
   "You regret your decision, Herr Scott? Or have you thought of a way to break the news to your employer?"
   "I don't regret it for a moment. It wasn't my fault the job became a cock up. We both did what we were supposed to do."
   "Fräulein Yuan-lin can explain your views to Herr Makronotis. She is free to go now," smiled the count. "Take your book with you, my dear. Transport to Innsbruck airport is waiting and your flights have been booked. Tell Herr Makronotis he can have Herr Scott back in a day or two, when I have finished with him."
   "What you do with John?" said Tsai suspiciously.
   "A very simple job," said the count.
   "Suppose he doesn't want to do it?" said Helm.
   "Oh, but he will," smiled the count.
   "I stay and help," said Tsai.
   "He will not need your help," said the count.
   "Glad to hear it," said Helm. "I don't think you have a choice," he added to Tsai. "Or I do."
   Tsai thought the matter over, then she gave him a hug and a surprisingly warm kiss of farewell. Helm began to suspect that Gladwin had been having him on. If Klara worked in Athens, and Tsai had been brought in from outside, it was likely that they had never met and Gladwin had been testing just how gullible Helm was. Again.
   Eva von Arlberg led Tsai down the staircase to the bedroom to collect her bag. Helm and the count walked along the third-floor corridor to another sitting room in another tower. One retainer went with each party. The other room had two tattered, Austrian-eagle flags and fans of weapons mounted on the walls. The chairs were upholstered in the same royal blue as the retainer's uniform. The frames were of curled, dark wood with the von Arlberg crest in enamel mounted on the top member. Helm took an instant fancy to them.
   On a handy table was a bottle of what looked like champagne in a silver ice bucket, and two glasses on a silver tray. Helm turned his head to read the label as the retainer was pouring. Sekt turned out to be fairly dry, fizzy white wine, which was extremely drinkable.
   "Prosit," said the count.
   "Ya sue," said Helm, taking another swig. "What's this job? And what are the chances of getting killed doing it?"
   "One you know all about. To survey my cryostore for Herr Morgenstern and to take him a sketch of the main structural load points."
   "How do you know about that?" Helm almost dropped a very expensive, lead crystal glass.
   "You told me yourself."
   "Eh? Oh, you mean you were listening at the keyhole?"
   "Electronically. Crouching in corridors is so undignified. I believe you have ten thousand dollars about your person? Would you care to hand it over? Or would you rather be searched for the sake of your honour?"
   "For safe-keeping. And to give you a reason for calling on me again when you have completed the job."
   "You really want me to help this nutty old Jew to blow up your cryostore?" Helm said incredulously.
   "I imagine that he has a limited supply of explosives and he wishes to place them where they will do most damage. Hence his need for an engineer. No doubt you will find the adventure amusing. And I am well insured."
   "You are busy drawing conclusions, Herr Scott?"
   "So Morgenstern's right? You really do have thirty-odd bodies and heads frozen in liquid nitrogen?"
   "Sixty-eight, to be strictly accurate."
   "At a hundred thousand dollars a body and thirty-five for a head."
   "Slightly more."
   "Including Adolf Hitler's body or head?"
   "Herr Morgenstern would appear to believe so."
   "Is he for real?"
   "His obsession is very real. And he controls eight million dollars. Of which you have ten thousand, which you were going to give me for safe-keeping."
   Helm dug out his emergency money container, feeling rather foolish, and handed it to the retainer.
   "Have my secretary put the money in the safe," said the count. "And return the sock to Herr Scott's luggage."
   The retainer gave either a deep nod or a shallow bow, and left with the warm sock of money.
   "Interesting fellow, Morgenstern," said the count. "He is seventy-nine and weighed down with many imaginary ailments, which he treats by smoking a revolting herbal mixture, of which at least fifty per cent is dried cannabis leaf."
   "I know, I had a whiff of it." Helm pulled a face. "I didn't know he's as old as that."
   "Age is difficult to judge in the dark. He will last a good many years yet – to the regret of his grandchildren. They have spent a fortune to have him declared incompetent so that they can lay their hands on his money. But he has the better lawyers."
   "Is it true the Israelis have attacked your clinic?"
   "They too think he is mad," chuckled the count. "Israeli Intelligence has nothing to do with him. But he has persuaded others to try to slay the dragon. They gave our security staff a little exercise."
   "So let's get this clear," said Helm. "You're going to give me a plan of your cryostore showing the best place to plant bombs? You're in some sort of financial trouble with it and you'd rather have the insurance money? So what do I get out of it?"
   "As I understand it, you get twenty thousand dollars from Herr Morgenstern."
   "What do I get from you?"
   "My grateful thanks, and my assistance in earning your fee. It would be illegal for me to give you money."
   "And so's conspiring to burn down your clinic. It strikes me you're doing bloody well out of me," Helm said indignantly. "Jewellery worth nine and a half million bucks, and I don't know how much more if your cryostore is destroyed by a well-known nut case. Aren't you going to buy my silence? I'd settle for a couple of these chairs."
   "I admire your good taste but that is quite out of the question. The jewels belong to my family and you were paid by Herr Makronotis for transporting them. You will be paid by Herr Morgenstern for the plan. Why should you be paid twice for the same job?"
   Helm thought about threatening to warn Morgenstern that he was being played for a sucker, then he thought better of it. There was no point in handing out free information. He replied with a shrug and drained his glass.
   "To quote Fräulein Yuan-lin," smiled the count, "no pay, no play ball? Give me one good reason why I should pay you anything at all."
   "Because you can afford it," said Helm. "And you can't afford not to. Two for the price of one."
   "The reason I asked is that I am interested in how experienced you are in your job. You talk of thousands of dollars, but I have a feeling the numbers mean very little to you."
   "Really?" said Helm frostily.
   "Have I offended you?" smirked the count. "Or have I had my ration of free conversation from you? Perhaps we had better get on with our business. If you turn left at the door and go along the corridor to the third door, my daughter will attend to the plan and your transport."
   Helm was thinking about the count's words as he left the turret. Perhaps he had become intoxicated by the numbers in his building society account. He was collecting telephone-number sums of money and they had a certain unreality, which would persist until he had a chance to enjoy his fortune.
   Looking at matters objectively, his services were worth no more than a call-out charge of about 25, plus about 10 per hour, plus a large premium for toiling to all hours in foreign parts. On the other hand, there are people who are paid vast sums of money for doing precious little – TV personalities, the wet hens of the City of London, all sorts of people like that. If they could do it, there was no reason why Robert Helm in his John Scott suit shouldn't join their privileged ranks for a while.
   Despite the circumstances, he had quite liked the count at first - once the drama with Tsai was behind them. Now, a rather romantic uncle figure had become just a rich crook with a dream home, a lovely daughter, short arms and deep pockets. Max von Arlberg wasn't fit to be a European aristocrat with his own castle and a great line in chairs.
   The count could have said the third turret on the left as easily as the third door. Eva von Arlberg was cleaning a pistol in her circular sitting room. She had the pieces arranged on an oily cloth on a silver tray.
   "You know what this is?" she said.
   "Looks like a Luger," Helm said casually.
   "A very common mistake," Eva told him in a smug tone. "In fact, it is a Parabellum Nul Acht. Luftwaffe issue."
   "You collect guns?"
   "Of a certain sort. Are you ready to go?"
   "I guess so."
   "Like that?"
   "Why not?" Helm was wearing a perfectly decent suit and his expensive cashmere sweater.
   "I suppose it will do. Come on."
   Eva abandoned the pistol and headed for the staircase. Helm felt like swinging a shoe at her bottom when she had descended to a convenient kicking height. The whole family was playing games with him. Eva's was one-upmanship. Her father was trying to set world records for getting something for nothing. And John Scott was letting them do it to him – mainly because he had no power to stop them. Eva disappeared into her bathroom to wash oil off her delicate hands. Helm stopped to stare at the décor.
   He had never before seen a Nazi battle flag used as a bedspread. The walls were a jumble of flags, weapons, badges and insignia, medals and framed photographs. Eva slept in a history lesson about the Third Reich.
   "Look at the picture on the left of the window," Eva called from the bathroom.
   Helm recognized the castle's courtyard. And the man with the Charlie Chaplin moustache. "Who's that the Führer's shaking hands with?"
   "My grandfather. Hitler enjoyed visiting castles. He liked ours especially."
   "Were you listening in on my conversation with Tsai too?"
   "What do you think, darling?"
   "Are you in on the conspiracy to bring Hitler back to take charge in the third millennium?"
   "Wasn't that an amusing story?" Eva sat down at her dressing table to brush out her blonde hair. "You like my collection of Nazibilia?"
   "Very impressive."
   "I collect mainly to shock people. With the added advantage that it is an investment. And my knowledge will be very useful tonight. When you lead the attack on the cryostore."
   "You what?" Helm sagged onto a chair.
   "You must be sure to wear something distinctive so we do not shoot you by mistake," Eva added blithely, squirting herself with an atomizer. "Do you like this perfume?"
   "It'll do," Helm said mechanically.
   "Now, darling, let us not be ungracious," laughed Eva.
   "Lead the attack, you did say that?"
   "The mad old Jew has to take you for two reasons. You will have been inside the cryostore and to make sure everything you will tell him is the truth."
   Helm gave her a weak smile and told himself not to panic just because he was in over his head again.
   You should be used to that position by now, he told himself. I mean, all you're expected to do is lead a suicide squad on a lunatic mission to make the twenty-first century safe from the creators of Eva's Nazibilia.
   Piece of cake, really!

Previous ChapterF&F BOOKSNext Chapter

TITLE PAGE010203040506070809101112131415161718192021
NOVELS PAGECreated for Romiley Literary Circle by HTSP Web Division, 10/12 SK6 4EG, Romiley, GB.
This Edition published in 2006 by Farrago & Farrago. © 1989, Philip Turner.